I sometimes think that poetry sits in relation to the great empire of the Novel as precariously as early Christianity in the Roman Empire: small groups of devotees gathering in catacombs to perform their sacred rites. OK, the stakes are not as high (the odd literary lion notwithstanding) and things have changed a little in recent years (new media platforms, performance-based and multi-media readings) but the art still feels distinctly underground.
This has an upside. Novelists might worry if their books will sell, but not poets. Of course they won't sell – they're poetry – but this offers not only relief from anxiety, but a profound freedom.
I've chosen these six South Australian poets as proof of that freedom, and the great diversity of poetic voices it allows: if nothing else, a poem is an expression of a unique, personal voice. This applies even (or perhaps especially) when that voice is programmatically anti-personal. There might be rules in poetry, but they are different sets of rules; any and every poet can invent their own. In an age in which the publishing empires impose increasingly commercial templates on fewer and fewer novels, poetry offers the exact opposite.
Adelaide has more than its share of catacombs. The Friendly Street readings are decades old now, the longest continuously running readings in the world for all I know. Kate Llewellyn, one of the six poets I've selected here, was there at the beginning; most of the others have read there. Ken Bolton's 'Lee Marvin Readings' continue, word-of-mouth, to attain legendary status; most of these poets have also squirmed through one of Bolton's hilariously irreverent introductions. His anti-CVs should be published in their own slim volume. There are other venues: Spin at Christies Beach; words@the wall at the State Library; Dead Poets Society at Dymocks; readings at the Halifax café and the Coffee Bean – plus various Slam and open-mic events.
Whether metaphorically underground or in the middle of a shopping mall, all offer an opportunity to test-run the penultimate, and perhaps most important, draft of a poem: the reading-aloud draft.
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- Custom Article Title States of Poetry 2016 - South Australia | State Editor's Introduction by Peter Goldsworthy
- Contents Category Poetry
'Poetry is a necessity of life ... It is a function of poetry to locate those zones inside us that would be free, and declare them so.' C.D. Wright
How does Western Australia look or sound to the rest of the country? In this selection, six poets are addressing you from the edge of the Indian Ocean, the edge of the Southern Ocean, one from Yamaji country, one from derelict, unlovely parts of the Swan River, one from the suburbs made strange, and two from a deep psychic trench between here and an older home.
We shouldn't reduce the complexity of the places to a series of clichés about wildness, heat, vulgarity, or mineral wealth. We should understand that, for all our flourishing poetic communities and histories, including strong independent publishing outlets, it remains difficult for Western Australian poets to gain much traction on the east coast. ABR's States of Poetry project is thus a very heartening development.
Having said that, 'getting noticed' can be slightly dubious. In making my selection, I was attracted to these poets not just for their idiosyncratic voices but also because, for each of them, poetry is an investment in a practice that goes beyond mere visibility. Something larger and more complex is at stake in the work here by Carolyn Abbs, Kia Groom, Graham Kershaw, Charmaine Papertalk-Green, J.P. Quinton, and Barbara Temperton. At a time of ultra-economic rationalism, this is one of the more important functions of all art, especially poetry. I am drawn to survivor poets who pursue their art patiently and unshowily. I see plenty of evidence of this in the work and lives of these poets. Temperton and Papertalk-Green have established presences and are significant regional poets. But they, like the others, have been working away quietly.
These selections are just the tip of larger and passionate involvements: Papertalk-Green's profoundly lived knowledge of the resilience of her Yamaji culture and her rightful anger; Temperton's sense of inclusive care from the deaths of small dogs to the health (or otherwise) of the ocean; Groom's sophisticated intertextual layerings of a wider feminist gothic project; Abbs's atmospheric excursions into the life of things and her ongoing collaboration with her sister, the photographer Elizabeth Roberts; Quinton's psychogeographies – both real and dreamlike – which are connected to his knowledge of place; and Kershaw's ethical ruminations that span an understanding of what it means to experience different places.
There is poise, compassion, unease, surprise, and an emphatic involvement with contemporary challenges in all the work here. These are six active contemporary Western Australian poets to cherish and to watch.
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- Custom Article Title States of Poetry 2016 - Western Australia | State Editor's Introduction by Lucy Dougan
- Contents Category Poetry
Editing an anthology of poets from New South Wales is both a wonderful and confronting task. Wonderful because you get to spend close-reading time with the work of poets that you greatly admire; confronting because of all the excellent poets you might include. However, one can take comfort in the fact that this anthology is going to be an annual occurrence, and in that sense cumulative, with a new cohort of six poets each year. I look forward to seeing it unfolding over time in its various iterations, and I feel honoured to present this inaugural collection.
The poetry included here has a certain quality in common: it unsettles the reader's relationship to language and to everyday phenomena; and it generates new and unexpected perceptions and imaginings. I have also chosen poets who contribute to the broader poetry community as teachers, editors, mentors, reviewers, and/or event organisers.
Here are six New South Wales poets I wanted to share with you. I hope you enjoy living with them as much as I do.
Toby Fitch's poems possess an unusual physicality and form beautiful and intriguing shapes on the page. They are clever and energetic, full of word play, puns, and politics. Reading them is like sliding down a slippery dip. They are also inversions of Rimbaud's Illuminations. Another ride down the slide – this time maybe backwards.
Fiona Wright's poems are open; I like that about them. Her voice – sometimes vulnerable – is often gentle and strong at the same time. Everyday images become quite surreal in her poems. For instance, in 'Crisis Poem', she takes a satirical look at gender stereotypes, which adds a strange twist to an otherwise 'normal' backyard barbeque.
David Malouf – one of our greatest writers and Australian Book Review's Laureate – finds ways of expressing very difficult things in a way few other poets can, to 'speak for what we have no other / words for'. Sometimes, I see David sipping coffee under neon lights at the busy Broadway shopping centre, watching people come and go. I was pleased to able to juxtapose this mental image of him with those of his 'Late Poem', a hushed and contemplative reflection on a much quieter coffee drinking experience.
Susie Anderson moved from Victoria to New South Wales fairly recently. She writes strikingly easygoing, relaxed prose poems. They are confessional and deceptively off the cuff – as though presenting thoughts and actions unfolding in real time. Her unaffected voice, typically keen to reveal her quirks and shortcomings to the reader, is endearing in its honesty.
Reading Pam Brown's poems is a bit like watching jazz; it can feel like she is going off on long solo improvisations. Things from the outside world – a train announcement, a sign she passes – interweave themselves with her inner melodies, and she seems to play with the sounds and rhythm of words as much as with sense and nonsense, as in this passage: 'rain taxi / book thug / I ate all your bees'.
In her poetry, Kate Middleton displays an intricate knowledge of many topic areas and texts. She follows her obsessions with enthusiasm and takes her willing readers along for the ride. Here she takes us into a Rubens painting, into The Wizard of Oz, and into the belly of a whale. Kate adroitly uses similes to bring together ideas which at first seem contradictory, but then make perfect sense: a lion is as 'patient as an avalanche', while the ground beneath Dorothy's feet 'glows like ruby / dense and knotted / as blood'.
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- Custom Article Title States of Poetry 2016 - New South Wales | State Editor's Introduction by Elizabeth Allen
- Contents Category States of Poetry - Introduction
For its small population, Tasmania has produced, or attracted from elsewhere, a significant number of published poets, past and present. Not all have loved the place. In the case of Gwen Harwood, the island state was her prison, or at least that’s what she told her friends: ‘I HATE HOBART’, ‘When do we leave?’ and ‘Get me outa here’. ‘My only fear is that I’ll die before I get out of Tasmania,’ she wrote in her ‘Sapho cards’ to her friend Alison Hoddinott. It’s hard to judge tone on the page, but these comments don’t really sound ambivalent!
Harwood wasn’t the only writer to feel a strong aversion to Tasmania. The fate of the original Tasmanians at the hands of European settlers casts a long shadow. Also, like many regional places, it has been culturally conservative and not especially welcoming of difference. Think of literary critic Peter Conrad’s scathing account of life in the 1960s in Hobart in his book Down Home (1988).
Nonetheless, many writers choose to live here now, for different reasons. For a start, it’s cheaper to live here. There are other reasons, though, not least of which is Tasmania’s wildness and beauty; almost a quarter of the state is World Heritage listed, much to the chagrin of those who want to chop down or dig up the country. For myself, I like the geography, I like living on an island in the Southern Ocean, and I like living where the environmental movement in Australia took off and where the world’s first Green Party (UTG) came to prominence. The past fifty years of environmental campaigns and conflict, while divisive, have helped to drag Tasmania into modernity and resulted in it becoming active globally. Tasmania’s isolation makes it compelling to some, as does the fact that it is away from the mainstream. Living away from mainland demands a certain self-sufficiency and mutual cooperation or support. Which brings me to poets in Tasmania, whom I think largely embody those qualities.
It was difficult to choose from so many poets. The six I have chosen range from mid- to late-career writers, their output ranging from two to fourteen collections. They tackle their art variously in subject, form, voice, and nuance. In their broader oeuvre, most of them respond at times to aspects of the island on which they live, particularly its history. For some, such as Adrienne Eberhard and Graeme Hetherington, this is a driving creative impetus. In this selection, Hetherington sheds light on his friendship with Gwen and Bill Harwood. I have included a sample of Adrienne Eberhard’s work in progress, a fictional dialogue between Marie Antoinette and Marie Louise/Louie Gerard, who posed as a cabin boy on Baudin’s first voyage to Tasmania. Karen Knight’s work is a homage to creativity as a transformative way of processing the experience of incarceration and its memory. Jane Williams’s distinctive voice is evident in the verve and energy of her poems included here. Aural craft and incisive perception are now characteristic of Louise Oxley’s poems, and Tim Thorne’s work is well known for its gutsy, undeviating directness.
Most, though not all, of the poems here are recent and unpublished. Like all good poems, they take one off guard and lend richness to reality, reflecting curiosity and an energetic shaping of observation and response to the past, present, and future.
In closing, it is important to acknowledge the vital role of Tasmanian literary magazines and their editors in fostering, encouraging, and introducing poets to a national readership. Independent local publishing houses continue to be a mainstay for important collections of poetry, local, and national.
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- Custom Article Title States of Poetry 2016 - TAS | State Editor's Introduction by Sarah Day
- Contents Category Poetry
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For its small population, Tasmania has produced, or attracted from elsewhere, a significant number of published poets, past and present. Not all have loved the place. In the case of Gwen Harwood, the island state was her prison, or at least that’s what she told her friends: